However, seeing as Johann, Carl and I had already been in full on tourist mode for most of the day already, we decided to skip the social and rather enjoy the offerings of Disney’s slightly more adult orientated theme park instead.
Best decision ever.
Themed after the history and culture of California, Disney California Adventure is situated literally across the gates of the original Disneyland Park, and while a later (massive and expensive) overhaul wove in more kid friendly entertainment options focused on Disney’s Pixar and Marvel properties, the park comes away as much more suited for older visitors as opposed to the youngsters.
There are lots of vintage props and real world themed backdrops to enjoy, and while the rides aren’t quite as numerous or iconic as what you get in the original park across the road, the rides that are there are certainly a lot of fun.
Given our time constraints (i.e., we only arrived there in the early evening), Johann, Carl and I only manage to dip our toes into two of the rides on offer – the heart stopping Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (which is an accelerated drop tower dark ride that essentially catapults you up and out at the top of a very high building) and the gorgeous Soarin’ Around the World experience (a flight motion simulator that ‘flies’ you through the world on a mechanical lift system).
Obviously had the lines been shorter we would have got to do more, but this is Disneyland – the lines are NEVER short!
Other than that, we spent our time strolling around the grounds, taking in the sights, chewing on churros, tackling turkey legs, and capping it all off with a viewing of the incredible water fountain projection finale, the World of Color nighttime show.
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Despite their proximity to one another, Disney California Adventure Park is a very different animal to Disneyland Park, meaning that if you have the time (and money, because boy, entrance to these places are expensive!), it is well worth spending at least two full days in order to explore both!
Having now pretty much spent the entire day exploring Disneyland on foot, I found myself gravitating back towards my original starting point of Main Street U.S.A., somehow eager to stake out a good spot among what was quite clearly a rapidly growing crowd lining the edges of the street.
Turns out, the reason for this sudden change of focus for the hordes of people milling about the theme park was actually pretty simple – the time for the big finale pieces had finally arrived, kicking things off with probably the most amazing electric light parade that I’ll probably ever see: the Paint the Night Parade!
The Paint the Night Parade actually premiered in Hong Kong Disneyland back in 2014, but did eventually arrive at Disneyland Park on May 22, 2015 as part of the original theme park’s big 60th anniversary “Diamond Celebration” season.
A spiritual successor to the long-running Main Street Electrical Parade, Paint the Night is Disneyland’s first all-LED parade, utilizing over 1.5 million LED lights to bring to life the special affects of the 8 units and their 76 performers that make up the show.
Lasting for approximately 20 minutes, this spectacle of light is accompanied by a mix of arrangements of Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley’s “Baroque Hoedown” and Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again?”.
The parade is led by the Peter Pan unit, featuring Rosetta, Silvermist, Iridessa, Tinkerbell, and Peter Pan. Following closely behind is the Monsters, Inc. unit (Sully and Mike), and the Cars unit (Lightning McQueen, Mack and DJ), before making way for the spectacular Little Mermain electric watercolors float (featuring Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder, King Triton, and Marlin and Nemo from Finding Nemo).
After that comes Toy Story (Jessie, Slinky Dog, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the Aliens), followed by Candlelight Dreams (Belle, Rapunzel, and Cinderella), and then the hugely popular (based on the crowd’s roar) Frozen Fractals float (featuring of course Anna, Elsa, and Olaf).
The last unit to come rumbling through is Mickey’s Lightastic Finale, featuring Goofy, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Sorcerer Mickey Mouse!
The parade is a wonderful, musical, and colourful assault on the senses, and was most definitely a highlight of the day for me.
Not that you have a chance to catch your breath mind you. No sooner had the closing notes of the Paint the Night Parade rung out, when the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle sparked to life with all its bedazzling lights, causing the crowd to quickly shuffle further down Main Street (towards the hub) in order to jostle for a better view.
The reason for this move was of course to catch a glimpse of Disneyland Forever, the nighttime spectacular at Disneyland that premiered on May 21, 2015 (again as part of the theme park’s 60th anniversary celebration).
Weaving a 15 minute long narrative while depicting iconic scenes from many of Disney’s classic films, Disneyland Forever incorporates an incredible mix of fireworks, projection mapping, fire, lasers and searchlights to bring a truly spectacular closing show to life.
Now I’m already a huge fan of projection mapping and the incredible tricks it can play on your senses, but when you combine this technology with fireworks and story at the scale that Disney does – the end result is simply just “wow”.
Honestly, what an incredible experience, and quite probably the best way that you could ever cap a day out and about in a theme park off with! The music was rousing, the visuals and narrative inspiring, and the fireworks simply put, astounding.
There really isn’t any more to say than that.
Anyway, the smoke cleared, the crowd started leaving, and I found myself exiting the gates and trundling down the road to grab a bite to eat from my very first American McDonalds – purely because this is something that we have in SA and thus I wanted to compare.
As it turns out, the American McDonalds experience (especially in terms of flavour) is actually a lot better than what we get back home – which came as a bit of a surprise really, considering how little I think of McDonalds at the best of times!
A short bus trip back to the hotel and given the long day I had just got under the belt, I was soon fast asleep in my surprisingly comfy Holiday Inn bed.
Of course, I did take a few photos of the night, purely as a reminder for myself, but obviously they’re not great given the fact that I used my phone for the photography – nevertheless, here they are in all their fuzzy glory:
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After many hours of aimlessly strolling about, I had finally entered Tomorrowland, the last themed “land” still left to visit on my once in a lifetime, one day only, exploration of the original Disneyland theme park.
Tomorrowland has always been about the future, as envisioned around a time when the original frenzy of space travel began to grip hold of America’s psyche.
Of course, as we all know these visions of a future quickly become outdated and as such Tomorrowland has had to change a lot over time, far more than any other land situated out there on the sprawling Disneyland complex.
When it originally opened in 1955, Tomorrowland was devoid of several of its planned attractions thanks to budget cuts. Construction had been rushed, and Tomorrowland ended up being the last land to be finished, arriving as somewhat of a corporate showcase with much of its space occupied by company showcase pieces from the likes of Monsanto Company, American Motors, Richfield Oil, and Dutch Boy Paint.
Over time, following numerous changes to the configuration and attractions, the showcases were slowly left by the wayside one by one as Disney took proper ownership of the themed land and made it their own.
These days, the current incarnation of Tomorrowland (still sporting its classic 1950s pulp sci-fi look – though now tinged with a heavy slather of Star Wars theme) is home to the iconic Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Autopia, and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue attractions.
Also, despite not being a particularly big Star Wars fan, it was hard not to be impressed with the very cool display set up in the Star Wars: Launch Bay area, not to mention the jaw-droppingly huge range of Star Wars merchandise on sale in all the official shops. (I suspect that a LOT of my friends would return with empty pockets and most likely a second mortgage on the house).
Given the Star Wars theme, the Matterhorn Mountain Bobsleds and Space Mountain, this was by far the most popular land that I travelled through on the day – and I suspect that this holds true pretty much every day, or will at least until the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land comes online in 2019!
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And yes, as you may suspect, I absolutely LOVED the monorail ride.
Having already ambled through Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, and Adventureland, I was rapidly running out of themed lands to visit on this warm, crowded, windless Disneyland day – so I decided to cool down with a visit to Critter Country, or more specifically, its famous Splash Mountain!
Originally known as Indian Village and then later Bear Country, Critter Country is situated on an area that was split off from Frontierland and is themed to resemble the great American Northwoods – with its towering pines, waterfalls, and rustic buildings.
With the Indian and Bear motifs now quite diminished, Critter Country is very much inhabited by the Winnie the Pooh franchise, much of it centered around the super kid friendly The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction.
However, if you aren’t really little enough to appreciate the wonderful world of Pooh, you could always hop on the big 20 person canoe and go for a paddle along the Rivers of America as part of the Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes attraction. (Sadly, along with the Hungry Bear Restaurant, closed on the day of my visit.)
That said, if you really want to get wet then you should probably join the queue for Splash Mountain, Disneyland’s iconic log flume ride.
As with most rides, making use of the FastPass system or being a single rider allows you to progress much quicker to the front of the seriously long queues, and given that I was traipsing along Disneyland all by myself, I found myself stuffed into the back of a hollow plastic log in a relatively short amount of time.
It was, as advertised, a great way to cool down on such a hot day! ;)
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Next up, a squelchy amble to the last remaining themed land for the day – Tomorrowland!
Having happily traipsed through Frontierland and New Orleans Square, the next themed Disneyland area that I entered happened to be Adventureland, home to the iconic Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room attraction.
Styled on that idea of 1930’s colonial exploration into the jungles of Africa or South America, Adventureland is all about the leafy exotic, with attractions including the likes of the Jungle Cruise, the Indiana Adventure and Tarzan’s Treehouse.
(And of course shops. Lots and lots of merchandise selling shops.)
Interesting fact – originally this themed land (based on Walt Disney’s award winning nature documentaries on Africa and Asia) was intended to have real animals from Africa inhabit the jungle river, but after zoologists told Walt that the real animals would either lie around or hide, the imagineers built mechanical animals instead!
By this stage of the day though, Disneyland was already packed full of people, which of course then means lots and lots of queuing. So pro tip – investigate the lands and their attractions before you visit the park, i.e. know what you want to see and which rides you want to ride before you enter, instead of just aimlessly wandering about like I did!
Honestly, other than the Tiki Room (which I just had to see for myself in person), I didn’t spend too long strolling through Adventureland – at this point I was hot and bothered, there were too many people, and the jungle atmosphere made everything feel quite drippy humid.
So instead of climbing up Tarzan’s Treehouse, I grabbed some photos on foot and continued my one day only tour of Disneyland…
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Next up for me – Critter Country and a wet encounter on Splash Mountain!
Seeing as Frontierland basically bleeds into New Orleans Square, that then was organically the next part of Disneyland that I found myself wandering through, though to be fair, thanks to the massive crowd now queuing around the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, a lack of interest in Haunted Mansions from my side, and a not running Disneyland Railroad attraction, it was a pretty quick stroll through this particular themed land more than anything else.
Based on 19th century New Orleans Louisiana, this small 3 acre area was in fact the first land to be added to Disneyland Park after its opening. (Costing Disney a neat $18 million in the process).
The name New Orleans Square is also a bit of a misnomer in that the layout doesn’t actually resemble a traditional urban piazza whatsoever – rather it consists of an intricate number of “streets” that weave around the shops, restaurants and the Pirates of the Caribbean show building that call this themed land home.
That said, it is pretty cool to walk through (the French Quarter looks lovely), though you do get the feeling that this space is more about the shopping and eating than the actual attractions – meaning that unless you are there for maybe the vibe and probably a taste of Captain Jack Sparrow lore, you probably won’t linger here in New Orleans Square for all that long.
As I mentioned at the start, I didn’t gain access to either of the dark rides on offer (seriously, that Pirates of Caribbean queue was immense!), and unfortunately for me, the one thing that I did actually want to ride on (i.e. the heritage narrow-gauge railroad train of course!) turned out not to be running on the day – so a bit of a pity that.
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Still, the vibe and live music – well worth the amble I thought.
Anyway, next up for my first ever wander about Disneyland Park (which I’m only writing about here more than a year later), Adventureland – and thus of course, Walt Disney’s legendary Enchanted Tiki Room!
Moving on from the small kid orientated lands of Fantasyland and Mickey’s Toontown, I next found myself wandering into Frontierland, another of Disneyland’s famous eight themed lands, this one styled to match the aesthetic of the 19th century American Wild West.
Conceived by Walt Disney as one of the five original themed lands in Disneyland, Frontierland did not initially contain many attractions – but rather centered on open expanses of wilderness which could be travelled across via stagecoach, pack mules, wagon, hiking and even a sedate train ride.
That has of course long since changed and these days every instance of Frontierland across all the Disney theme parks include a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride and a stretch of riverfront.
In this park’s case, the Rivers of America is home to the Mark Twain Riverboat as well as the Sailing Ship Columbia (a replica of American explorer Robert Gray’s 18th century ship that circumnavigated the globe), with the Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island sitting in its middle.
If you feel like food with a show, step into the Golden Horseshoe Saloon, or sharpen up your shooting skills at the Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition, situated just as you enter through the fort style gate.
(Neither of which I actually tackled mind you, primarily because I was far more interested in standing in a queue for what looked like it was going to be pretty decent roller coaster ride!)
As fun as a ride on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster was, I was actually a bit unfortunate on the day in that a large number of Frontierland’s attractions were currently either shuttered or closed to the public – all in an effort to make way for the new Star Wars themed land currently under construction (which you could peek at if you found a high enough vantage point like I did), slated for a 2019 grand opening.
Not that it mattered all that much though – there was still a lot of crowds left to work my way through and PLENTY of Disneyland still left to see!
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Next up in my first ever (and realistically, only) exploration of Disneyland – New Orleans Square!
So having now ambled through Main Street U.S.A. and then wandered about the whimsical Fantasyland, I continued my Disneyland day by stepping through under a bridge and dropping straight into a place right out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Mickey’s Toontown is another of Disneyland’s themed lands and based on a 1930s cartoon aesthetic, this one is very much a small scale recreation of the Mickey Mouse universe.
All the main Mickey Mouse characters (like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck) have their houses situated in this colourful and very quirky little town setting, and as you might imagine (being specifically aimed at the smaller visitors to the park), character interactions and meet and greets are very much the norm here.
Everything is themed, so if you want a bite to eat, grab a pizza from Daisy’s Diner, or maybe some hotdogs from Pluto’s Dog House, perhaps finishing it all off with some ice cream from Clarabelle Cow’s.
There are loads of goofy props littered about to match the look and feel of the crazy little place, and the few rides dotted about this land very much follow this aesthetic.
(For reference, the two rides available in this small section of the park is Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and Gadget’s Go Coaster.)
It’s a lot of silly fun and popular with the little kids, but that said, I did rather enjoy my little spin on the crazy Roger Rabbit ride! ;)
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Next up: the slightly more adult themed Frontierland, and with it, a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!